Prime Minister David Cameron’s upcoming visit to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting has faced criticism at Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament today.
Due to Cameron’s visit to the US, he was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The deputy leader of Clegg’s Liberal party, Simon Hughes, said he “cannot support” Cameron’s decision, because of Sri Lanka’s human rights record.
Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh also questioned the decision to attend the meeting.
Nick Clegg said that the decision was “controversial, especially in the light of the despicable human rights violations”, but that the visit would “cast a spotlight on the unacceptable abuses”.
“If such violations continue, and if the Sri Lankan Government continues to ignore their international commitments in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, of course there will be consequences.”
See below for exchange in full.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD):
I have to tell my friend that I cannot support the decision of the Prime Minister to go to the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Sri Lanka because of the human rights record of the Sri Lankan Government. What can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us about how we can respond to that terrible regime’s record? What can we do to make sure that in future the Commonwealth does not just say it believes in human rights, but does something about it?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
We are all aware that the decision that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will attend the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka is controversial, especially in the light of the despicable human rights violations during the recent civil war. But I assure my right hon. Friend that the Government condemn those violations, the way in which political trials, regular assaults on legal professionals and suppression of press freedom continue, and the fact that too many recommendations of the lessons learnt and reconciliation commission have not been implemented. If such violations continue, and if the Sri Lankan Government continue to ignore their international commitments in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, of course there will be consequences.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab):
In answer to the question the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) asked on Sri Lanka, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a long list of atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan Government. Why, then, are his Government going to the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Sri Lanka, why are they announcing that six months ahead of time, and why do they want to see an alleged war criminal as Chair of the Commonwealth?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
I think that we all accept the controversy and unease about this matter, but by attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka we will be using the opportunity to cast a spotlight on the unacceptable abuses there. As I said earlier, of course there will be consequences if the conduct of the Sri Lankan authorities does not change. The Commonwealth matters to us all, and it is based on a number of values. Where I accept the hon. Lady’s implicit criticism is in relation to this point: all Commonwealth Governments should do more to not only talk about those values, but ensure that they are properly monitored and enforced.